More guest blogging! (Sad) Stevie is back again to shed light on the nature of depression, and how his funny (abusive) friends work in parallel with his prescription meds. But Mr. Safran hardly personifies his Disease any more than I mope around as Mrs. Cancer. In fact, this whole essay makes me want to hug and hang out with him. There are plans for that, which will include lots of razzing about hogging my CANCER blog to chat up my expanding audience (five countries today!) with blather about his big boo hoo disease.*
So Sad It’s Funny, by Steve Safran
Being a guest writer on someone’s cancer blog is tricky. It’s especially tricky when you’re an attention hog. It’s exponentially tricky when you’re up against Britt. When faced with such an admirable foe, the only question one can reasonably ask is “How do I make this about me?”
I’ll go with my depression.
Depression is an odd illness. It’s the only one I know of where people tell you that there’s no reason you should have it. “You have a great life – what do you have to be depressed about?” But that’s like asking Britt, “You have awesome hair – what do you have to be cancerous about?”
So yes, I have depression, as I have since I was 14. And I have come to accept that there is no real cure. But I did keep it quiet for a very long time – the whole stigma thing. It’s not cancer after all. It’s not fatal – although there are plenty of sufferers who decided it was better to make it terminal, so to speak.
Many people believe that this is an illness of weakness, laziness, and choice rather than of chemical imbalance. (I include myself in this occasionally.) While Britt fought her illness, I continued to fight my own. And I wondered – how can I feel so bad about myself while Britt fights a “real” illness?
Britt’s cancer can be shown on tests; what I have is less tangible. It’s a diagnosis without a visual. The course of treatment is debatable in the sense that five doctors will guess ten different ways of going about it. There is no one way. And, as far as I have experienced, there is no cure. I’m a 25-year chemistry experiment. And nobody will ever pronounce me depression-free.
Add to this epilepsy that I developed in my 30s and a lifelong fight with migraines and panic attacks, and it’s enough to make you plotz, as My People would say in the shtetl. (Jewy Writing Tip: When you can’t come up with a punchline, use as much Yiddish as possible. Italicize for extra comedy effect.)
Yet this is not a cry for help. Illness actually makes for pretty good comedy.
You may have noticed that I tend toward the humorous, even the dark humorous side of things. This is not a coincidence. People have long noted the “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside” kinds of humorists. That’s me. Funny helps fight The Sad.
So I get why Britt can be so funny in the midst of such horror. When met with a mortal enemy, you can run or you can laugh in its face. We who choose the latter do so not so much out of bravery (for I will never be associated with such a term) but out of defense. Although not by any stretch the best medicine, humor is a salve. Laughing releases some sort of chemical-thing that makes your brain-thing happier or something like that. I will leave the actual science in this space to Britt or, really, anyone who can make it through freshman Bio.
“Comedy Is Not Pretty” wrote Steve Martin. It’s the ironic title of his third album, and damn right he is. Great humor needs a foe. Britt, Debby, Ran, Jason and I needle each other endlessly on Facebook – and that’s what friends do. At least, that’s what we do. Normal friends may actually be polite to each other. Who’s to say? I’ll take the needling. I’ll take outright abuse, so long as it’s witty. Because there’s a weird kind of love in that. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty funny.
Being “Depressed” isn’t who I am. Britt’s not “Cancered,” after all. Although I do enjoy making up words, and may save that for future use.
Depression, cancer, illness… it’s not pretty. But it can be pretty funny.
*Just a small sample of friendly needling. Of course Cancer doesn’t trump Depression. But describing me as an “admirable foe” has me searching for my Made Up Word Gauntlet.